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How A Basque Chef Smokes Out Food’s Subtle Natural Flavors

Chef Bittor Arginzoniz slicing beef. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Etxebarri

Chef Bittor Arginzoniz slicing beef. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Etxebarri

Using wood to showcase the food

The covered wood pile behind Etxebarri. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sofia Perez

The covered wood pile behind Etxebarri. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sofia Perez

A typical morning starts at 7 a.m., when he selects logs from a covered shed out back, pairing wood type to dish according to its aroma and how it burns. Wood is as crucial an ingredient on his menu as the food in his walk-in. To hear him tell it, there’s even a kind of poetry to it. “It evokes nature and freedom. Sacrifice and reward. Being fully yourself.”

Trees have been at the center of Arginzoniz’s entire life. His first job was as a forester, followed by a long stint at a local paper mill. All the while, he honed his culinary skills. As he showed me around the restaurant, bought in 1989, he explained why he focuses on this one technique. “It intensifies the flavor of whatever you cook.”

His food proves the point. The aroma of burning wood is in all his dishes, but it’s there to showcase the ingredients, lifting them up while remaining modestly tucked in the background — much like the man himself.



Zester Daily contributor Sofia Perez is an independent multimedia journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Gourmet, and Saveur, and she began her career in broadcast news at NBC. She's taught food-writing classes at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education, serves as a judge for the James Beard Foundation Book & Journalism Awards, and is the North American interpreter for chef Ferran Adrià. Most recently, she completed her first book, "So This Is How It Ends," a historical novel about the Spanish Civil War. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Perez is the proud child of two remarkable Spaniards who instilled in her their passion for food and their homeland.

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